“Dormice of Europe (Gliridae)” – an illustration combining watercolour and pencil – and its author Denitsa Peneva won at the Illustracienciacompetition in the “Nature Illustration” category. This year, the contest saw over 500 works.
Denitsa’s illustration depicts five dormouse species known from Europe: the Roach’s mouse-tailed or ground dormouse (Myomimus roachi), the forest dormouse (Dryomys nitedula), the European edible dormouse (Glis glis), the hazel dormouse (Muscardinus avellanarius) and the garden dormouse (Eliomys quercinus). Each of the rodents is seen on a plant that is typical either for its habitat or diet. Respectively, one of the species – which is a carnivore – is shown next to a snail.
Curiously, “Dormice of Europe (Gliridae)” was inspired by last year’s 11th International Dormouse Conference, which took place in Svilengrad, Bulgaria. The locality was not chosen at random. It had just recently been found to house a large population of the rarest dormouse species for Europe. At the time, the Roach’s mouse-tailed or ground dormouse (Myomimus roachi), a species endemic to the Balkans, had not been encountered for almost 40 years.
You can follow the work by Denitsa on her Facebook page.
Readers at some of the journals published by Pensoft, who have downloaded/printed a publication or ordered a physical copy of a journal issue over the last few weeks, might be in for a surprise concerning the layout of the PDF format of the articles.
Even though it’s been years since online publishing has become the norm in how we are consuming information – including scientific publications – we understand that academia is still very much fond of traditional, often paper-based, article layout format: the one you use when accessing a PDF file or a print copy, rather than directly scrolling down through the HTML version of the article.
Even if today large orders of printed volumes from overseas are the exception, rather than the rule, we know we have readers of ours who regularly print manuscripts at home or savе them on their devices. Trends like this have already led to many journals first abandoning the physical- for digital-first, then transitioning to digital-only publication format.
As we speak, readers are accessing PDF files from much higher-quality desktops, in order to skim through as much content as possible.
In the meantime, authors are relying on greater-quality cameras to document their discoveries, while using advanced computational tools capable of generating and analysing extra layers of precise data. While producing more exhaustive research, however, it is also of key importance that their manuscripts are processed and published as rapidly as possible.
So, let’s run through the updates and give you our reasoning for their added value to readers and authors.
Revised opening page
One of the major changes is the one to the format of the first page. By leaving some blank space on the left, we found a dedicated place for important article metadata, i.e. academic editor, date of manuscript submission / acceptance / publication, citation details and licence. As a result, we “cleaned up” the upper part of the page, so that it can better highlight the authors and their affiliations.
Bottom line: The new layout provides a better structure to the opening page to let readers find key article metadata at a glance.
Expand as much – or as little – as comfortable
As you might know, journals published by Pensoft have been coming in different formats and sizes. Now, we have introduced the standard A4 page size, where the text is laid in a single column that has been slightly indented to the right, as seen above. Whenever a figure or a table is used in a manuscript, however, it is expanded onto the whole width of the page.
Before giving our reasons why, let’s see what were the specific problems that we address.
Case study 1
Some of our signature journals, including ZooKeys, PhytoKeys and MycoKeys, have become quite recognisable with their smaller-than-average B5 format, widely appreciated by people who would often be seen carrying around a copy during a conference or an international flight.
However, in recent times, authors began to embrace good practices in research like open sharing of data and code, which resulted in larger and more complex tables. Similarly, their pocket-sized cameras would capture much higher-resolution photos capable of revealing otherwise minute morphological characters. Smaller page size would also mean that often there would be pages between an in-text reference of a figure or a table and the visual itself.
So, here we faced an obvious question: shall we deprive their readers from all those detailed insights into the published studies?
Yet, the A4 format brought up another issue: the lines were too long for the eye comfort of their readers.
What they did was organise their pages into two-column format. While this sounds like a good and quite obvious decision, the format – best known from print newspapers – is pretty inconvenient when accessed digitally. Since the readers would like to zoom in on the PDF page or simply access the article on mobile, they will need to scroll up and down several times per page.
In addition, the production of a two-column text is technologically more challenging, which results in extra production time.
Bottom line: The new layout allows journals to not sacrifice image quality for text readability and vice versa. As a bonus, authors enjoy faster publication for their papers.
If you have a closer look at the PDF file, you would notice that print-ready papers have also switched to a more simplistic – yet easier to the eye – font. Again, the update corresponds to today’s digital-native user behaviour, where readers often access PDF files from devices of various resolutions and skim through the text, as opposed to studying its content in detail.
In fact, the change is hardly new, since the same font has long been utilised for the webpages (HTML format) of the publications across all journals.
Bottom line: The slightly rounder and simplified font prompts readability, thereby allowing for faster and increased consumption of content.
What’s the catch? How about characters and APCs?
While we have been receiving a lot of positive feedback from editors, authors and readers, there has been a concern that the updates would increase the publication charges, wherever these are estimated based on page numbers.
Having calculated the lines and characters in the new layout format, we would like to assure you that there is no increase in the numbers of characters or words between the former and current layout formats. In fact, due to the additional number of lines fitting in an A4 page as opposed to B5, authors might be even up for a deal.
* At the time of the writing, the new paper layout has not been rolled out at all journals published by Pensoft. However, most of the editorial boards have already confirmed they would like to incorporate the update.
The central region of Texas is a known hotspot of biological wonders. For the last five years, Dr. JoVonn Hill, an Assistant Professor and Director of the Mississippi Entomological Museum (MEM) at Mississippi State University, and his colleagues have made scientific expeditions to the area that have now revealed an extraordinary find.
The team uncovered seven previously unknown flightless grasshopper species, six of them endemic to the Edwards Plateau, which underscores the region’s extraordinary biodiversity.
With this discovery, Dr. Hill is paying tribute to two iconic musicians. In recognition of the “immense contributions” of Texas legends Willie Nelson and Jerry Jeff Walker, he has named two of these flightless grasshopper species after them.
“Melanoplus nelsoni and Melanoplus walkeri immortalize the enduring contributions of these legendary musicians and their connection to Texas,” he says.
“After these last few summers [of field studies], just like Mr. Nelson, we too have a little Texas in our souls,” he writes in his study, which was just published in the journal ZooKeys.
On Melanoplus walkeri, he writes: “Walker’s songs such as Hill Country Rain, Leavin’ Texas, and Sangria Wine brought me and my field team joy while traveling between field sites and added to the amazing ambiance of the Edwards Plateau.” In fact, the artist recorded his most influential album not far away from the spot where the new species was discovered.
Additionally, the team acknowledges the cultural heritage and deep connection to the region of the Comanche and Tonkawa tribes, naming two species after them, Melanoplus commanche and Melanoplus tonkawa respectively.
“These designations recognize the profound historical and cultural significance of the tribes in the region,” Dr. Hill explains.
“These seven newly described species, alongside two preexisting ones, form a cohesive species group, highlighting their shared characteristics and evolutionary relationships,” Dr. Hill says in conclusion. “The formation of this new species group presents a significant contribution to our understanding of the diverse ecosystems present in central Texas,” he adds.
The discovery of these seven flightless grasshopper species and the formation of a new species group underscore the ecological uniqueness of central Texas, Dr. Hill says. He and the staff of the Mississippi Entomological Museum remain committed to scientific exploration and understanding, promoting the conservation of biodiversity, and inspiring a sense of wonder and appreciation for the natural world.
Hill JG (2023) Diversification deep in the heart of Texas: seven new grasshopper species and establishment of the Melanoplus discolor species group (Orthoptera, Acrididae, Melanoplinae). ZooKeys 1165: 101-136. https://doi.org/10.3897/zookeys.1165.104047
Tetrigidae, commonly known as pygmy grasshoppers, are an ancient and diverse family, currently numbering about 2000 species. As their name suggests, tetrigids are very small; their largest representatives are barely several centimeters long, so they might be difficult to spot on a casual stroll through tropical vegetation. However, when they are spotted, they are immediately recognizable by their elongated pronotum, a hard structure that starts behind the head and covers the entire body like a hood. They come in many shapes and colors and are often exciting to see, but this comes with a price—the taxonomy of Tetrigidae, the way they are organized into natural groups, is a mess. This is where we come in.
In our latest paper, we dealt with Choriphyllini, a small Caribbean tribe that belongs to the subfamily Cladonotinae. This subfamily had been filling up with unrelated but similar-looking tetrigids for more than a century. It had never been clearly defined so almost everything wingless and robust was assigned to Cladonotinae. We decided to put an end to this by slowly removing the superficially similar genera from the subfamily and describing tribes to group the genera that are clearly related to each other. We piloted this system just last year, when we described the tribe Valalyllini from Madagascar, with only two endemic (and endangered) genera and species.
Put the species of Choriphyllini and Valalyllini together, mix them up, and try to guess which belongs where—this is no simple task; they are all doing their impressions of dead leaves that our primate brains struggle to differentiate. And there’s more: such leaf-like grasshoppers live in Africa and South East Asia as well, and then there are those that look like twigs and spiky tree bark.
Only now that we have an idea of what the true Cladonotinae are can we be properly amazed by the duality they represent to us. On the one hand, they are incredibly diverse with every species having its own variation on the basic shape. On the other, they are so alike that they either represent the best example of convergent evolution ever documented or they all stem from a common ancestor that is currently supposed to have lived during the Mesozoic. The evolutionary history of Cladonotinae will take many years to unravel, but the work can only begin after we define what to call by that name.
It only took 250 years
The first species of Choriphyllini, Phyllotettix rhombeus, was described in 1765 as Cicada rhombea, that is, as a member of an entirely different order of insects. Continuing in this manner, many authors (including the great Linnaeus himself) made many taxonomic and nomenclatural mistakes that compounded over the centuries and made these grasshoppers difficult to identify and refer to. It didn’t help that new species and new records kept being reported without being contextualized by comprehensive literature reviews. Like detectives, we followed the scattered crumbs of data and arrived at a synthesis that will make future research in the region much more pleasant.
This is not where interesting facts about Phyllotettix rhombeus stop. While looking through the literature, we tried to extract the measurements of drawings. Most of the drawings had a scale bar printed next to them, but the archaic usage of “lines” as the standard measurement initially gave us some trouble. That is why at first we doubted one of our most fascinating discoveries: with the pronotal length measuring nearly 3 centimeters, Phyllotettix rhombeus is the largest tetrigid ever recorded! Many, many authors dealt with this species over the last 250 years, but this record was never made explicit.
It should not go unnoticed now that its proposed common name is “Jamaican Colossal Jumping Leaf”. Inspired by this, we took the measurements of the other species as well and made a figure where all the specimens are resized to a common scale, which shows the diversity of both shapes and sizes.
Besides P. rhombeus, there are three more species in the genus Phyllotettix: P. plagiatus,P. foliatus, and P. compressus. All four of them are known only from Jamaica. P. foliatus and P. compressus are known from the Blue Mountains, but for the other two no precise localities are known; we still don’t know where exactly the largest tetrigid lives. The other genus of the tribe is Choriphyllum, also with four species. Three of them, C. sagrai, C. saussurei, and C. wallaceum live in Cuba, while C. bahamense is all alone on Hummingbird Cay island in the Bahamas. The easiest way to differentiate these two genera is a little strange but practical, the tallest point of the leaf-like crest in Choriphyllum species is in the front, while in Phyllotettix species it is in the back.
Some Caribbean leaves dance and jump
For each species, we proposed a common name as a means to give these animals even more character. Names, such as “Jamaican Bitten Jumping Leaf” and “Old Cuban Dancing Leaf” may not be “official”, but they have certainly found their audience. The tweet in which we shared the collage of all the species was viewed over 17000 times; everyone was amazed by the pretty shapes and some even noted that they especially liked the crazy common names. We were very glad to see our scientific and artistic package that is Choriphyllini be so warmly received.
Another hit on Twitter, with over 20000 views, is the post showcasing the newly-described species from Cuba, Choriphyllum wallaceum. The holotype of this species has been awaiting description for a long time. We found it in Museo Nacional de Ciencias Naturales in Madrid, Spain, with a note from Ignacio Bolívar, the father of the Tetrigidae classification system. He referred to it as “Choriphyllum Seoanei” but never managed to publish it.
This “new” species presented us with the perfect opportunity to honor the 200th anniversary of Alfred Russel Wallace’s birth. Wallace is often called the “father of biogeography” but is all too often neglected when discussing the origins of the theory of evolution, with which Charles Darwin is considered synonymous. Wallace, with his independent arrival at the key concepts of the evolutionary theory, his correspondence with Darwin, and his staunch defense of Darwin’s ideas, was (and is) at the very least equal to Darwin and deserves much more recognition than he currently gets.
This is just the start
Choriphyllini are a pretty package, but one that merely introduces the real problem. The history of this tribe is long, yet we have very few specimens to work with. Although we have an understanding of how morphology varies within species, P. compressus and P. foliatus are not only suspiciously similar to each other, but they also live in the same general area of the Blue Mountains. It remains to be seen if they are in fact a single species.
Much more pressing is that we have only a vague idea of where these animals live and how their populations are impacted by various factors such as human activity and climate change—we do not have a baseline against which to assess their conservation status. Then there is the fact that there are many more islands in the Caribbean, making the possibility of discovering new Choriphyllini species on them real and exciting. We can only guess what the future holds for these neglected animals.
The stage is set; everything we know about this group is laid out in the paper and now there is no path but forward. Research is expensive, dedication to this work takes a certain kind of soul, and everything takes time. It is our sincere hope that someone someday takes this further. The pygmy jumping leaves will wait for as long as they can, on their islands, hopping without a care in the world.
Deranja M, Kasalo N, Adžić K, Franjević D, Skejo J (2022) Lepocranus and Valalyllum gen. nov. (Orthoptera, Tetrigidae, Cladonotinae), endangered Malagasy dead-leaf-like grasshoppers. ZooKeys 1109: 1-15. https://doi.org/10.3897/zookeys.1109.85565
The so-called High Seas Treaty is a legal framework for the protection of marine biodiversity and responsible and equitable use of resources of areas beyond national jurisdiction (BBJN). Its draft, published on the 5th of March 2023, is the outcome of two decades of negotiations, and is part of the international effort to protect a third of the world’s biodiversity by 2030.
An unwavering dedication to the protection and conservation of biodiversity will be required to see the firm landing of this hopeful step.
On this occasion, we look back at some impactful studies published in our journals that have made waves, hopefully in the right direction towards impactful conservation measures and actions.
Following President Barack Obama’s expansion of the largest permanent Marine Protected Area on Earth (Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument) in 2016, a new species of coral-reef fish was named in his honour. The fish is the only known coral-reef species to be endemic to the Monument, and, despite its small size, it carries wide-reaching cultural and political significance as a reminder of how politics go hand in hand with science.
The Clarion-Clipperton Zone, managed by the International Seabed Authority, has been targeted by deep-sea mining interests. In the context of heightened concern over potential biodiversity loss, scientific research is crucial for informing policy-makers and the general public about the risks and outcomes of such initiatives.
The rich biodiversity of the deep sea has also been documented in big-scale taxonomic inventories and checklists in the Biodiversity Data Journal.
Going forward, the expansion of Marine Protected Areas should also ensure the implementation of policies for the methods of resource extraction and their equitable sharing and use among the world’s nations.
Over the next few years, we hope to see an ever increasing interest in biodiversity conservation - from the general public, stakeholders and policy makers, and, of course, research institutions.
We need to love what we protect in order to be able to protect it.
Follow Pensoft on Twitter and Facebook, and sign up for our newsletter on the right.
Apart from coordinating the Horizon 2020-funded project BiCIKL, scholarly publisher and technology provider Pensoft has been the engine behind what is likely to be the first production-stage semantic system to run on top of a reasonably-sized biodiversity knowledge graph.
OpenBiodiv is a biodiversity database containing knowledge extracted from scientific literature, built as an Open Biodiversity Knowledge Management System.
As of February 2023, OpenBiodiv contains 36,308 processed articles; 69,596 taxon treatments; 1,131 institutions; 460,475 taxon names; 87,876 sequences; 247,023 bibliographic references; 341,594 author names; and 2,770,357 article sections and subsections.
In fact, OpenBiodiv is a whole ecosystem comprising tools and services that enable biodiversity data to be extracted from the text of biodiversity articles published in data-minable XML format, as in the journals published by Pensoft (e.g. ZooKeys, PhytoKeys, MycoKeys, Biodiversity Data Journal), and other taxonomic treatments – available from Plazi and Plazi’s specialised extraction workflow – into Linked Open Data.
“The basics of what was to become the OpenBiodiv database began to come together back in 2015 within the EU-funded BIG4 PhD project of Victor Senderov, later succeeded by another PhD project by Mariya Dimitrova within IGNITE. It was during those two projects that the backend Ontology-O, the first versions of RDF converters and the basic website functionalities were created,”
At the time OpenBiodiv became one of the nine research infrastructures within BiCIKL tasked with the provision of virtual access to open FAIR data, tools and services, it had already evolved into a RDF-based biodiversity knowledge graph, equipped with a fully automated extraction and indexing workflow and user apps.
Currently, Pensoft is working at full speed on new user apps in OpenBiodiv, as the team is continuously bringing into play invaluable feedback and recommendation from end-users and partners at BiCIKL.
As a result, OpenBiodiv is already capable of answering open-ended queries based on the available data. To do this, OpenBiodiv discovers ‘hidden’ links between data classes, i.e. taxon names, taxon treatments, specimens, sequences, persons/authors and collections/institutions.
Thus, the system generates new knowledge about taxa, scientific articles and their subsections, the examined materials and their metadata, localities and sequences, amongst others. Additionally, it is able to return information with a relevant visual representation about any one or a combination of those major data classes within a certain scope and semantic context.
Users can explore the database by either typing in any term (even if misspelt!) in the search engine available from the OpenBiodiv homepage; or integrating an Application Programming Interface (API); as well as by using SPARQL queries.
On the OpenBiodiv website, there is also a list of predefined SPARQL queries, which is continuously being expanded.
“OpenBiodiv is an ambitious project of ours, and it’s surely one close to Pensoft’s heart, given our decades-long dedication to biodiversity science and knowledge sharing. Our previous fruitful partnerships with Plazi, BIG4 and IGNITE, as well as the current exciting and inspirational network of BiCIKL are wonderful examples of how far we can go with the right collaborators,”
“In a stream in the forest there lived a Hyloscirtus. Not a nasty, dirty stream, with spoor of contamination and a muddy smell, nor yet a dry, bare, sandy stream with nothing in it to perch on or to eat: it was a Hyloscirtus-stream, and that means environmental quality.” (adapted from the opening of “The Hobbit” by J. R. R. Tolkien)
A magnificent new species of stream frog from the Andes of Ecuador was named after J. R. R. Tolkien, creator of Middle-earth and author of famous fantasy works “The Hobbit” and “The Lord of the Rings. It lives in the pristine streams of the Río Negro-Sopladora National Park, a recently declared protected area that preserves thousands of hectares of almost primary forests in southeastern Ecuador.
Stream frogs are a group of amphibians that inhabit the high Andes of Venezuela, Colombia, Ecuado, Peru, and Bolivia. Their life is closely linked to the pure rivers and streams in the mountain areas of the Andes, hence the name “stream frogs”. The adults live in the riparian vegetation, and their tadpoles develop among the rocks of the rapid waters of the rivers.
The researchers, Juan C. Sánchez-Nivicela, José M. Falcón-Reibán, and Diego F. Cisneros-Heredia, named the new frog Hyloscirtus tolkieni in honour of one of their favourite writer. JRR Tolkien, a renowned author, poet, philologist and academic, is the creator of Middle-earth and the father of fantastic works such as “The Hobbit” and “The Lord of the Rings”. The amazing colours of this new frog species reminded them of the magnificent creatures from Tolkien’s fantasy worlds.
Expeditions carried out since 2020 in the Río Negro-Sopladora National Park in Ecuador have allowed the discovery of a large number of species yet unknown to science. A protected area since 2018, this national park, located in the south of the country, is home to large forested areas that remain unstudied.
“For weeks, we explored different areas of the Río Negro-Sopladora National Park, walking from paramo grasslands at 3,100 meters elevation to forests at 1,000 m. We found a single individual of this new species of frog, which we found impressive due to its colouration and large size.”, indicated Juan Carlos Sánchez Nivicela, associate researcher at the Museum of Zoology of the Universidad San Francisco de Quito USFQ and the National Institute of Biodiversity, and co-author of the study where the frog is described.
The Río Negro Stream Frog is easily differentiated from all its frog releatives by its appearance and unique colouration. It is relatively large (65 mm long), a greyish green back with yellow spots and black specks, and a pale pink and black iris. Its throat, belly and flanks as well as the undersides of its legs are golden yellow with large black spots and dots, and its fingers and toes have black bars and spots and broad skin stripes.
“The new species of frog has amazing colours, and it would seem that it lives in a universe of fantasies, like those created by Tolkien. The truth is that the tropical Andes are magical ecosystems where some of the most wonderful species of flora, funga, and fauna in the world are present. Unfortunately, few areas are well protected from the negative impacts caused by humans. Deforestation, unsustainable agricultural expansion, mining, invasive species, and climate changes are seriously affecting Andean biodiversity”, said Diego F. Cisneros-Heredia, director of the Museum of Zoology of the Universidad San Francisco de Quito USFQ and associate researcher of the National Institute of Biodiversity, and co-author of the study.
The species is still only known from one locality and one individual, so information is insufficient to assess its conservation status and the risk of extinction. However, the authors agree that it is urgent to establish research and monitoring actions to study its life history and ecology, as well as its population size and dynamics. In addition, they suggest exploring new sites where additional populations may exist, and assessing whether their long-term conservation is affected by any threats, such as invasive species, mining, emerging diseases, or climate change.
The description of new species is an important mechanism to support global strategies for the conservation of vulnerable environments, since it reveals the great wealth of biodiversity that is linked to countless natural resources and environmental services. For example, amphibians are important pest controllers and play vital ecological roles in the stability of nature. Unfortunately, 57% of amphibian species in Ecuador are threatened by extinction.
Sánchez-Nivicela JC, Falcón-Reibán JM, Cisneros-Heredia DF (2023) A new stream treefrog of the genus Hyloscirtus (Amphibia, Hylidae) from the Río Negro-Sopladora National Park, Ecuador. ZooKeys 1141: 75-92. https://doi.org/10.3897/zookeys.1141.90290
Photos by Juan Carlos Sánchez-Nivicela / Archive Museo de Zoología, Universidad San Francisco de Quito
A new species of snake was described from western Panama. First documented in 1977 by Dr. Charles Myers, a scientist studying amphibians and reptiles throughout Panama, it was only now that it got a scientific description.
The new snake has been given the name Dipsas aparatiritos. The genus Dipsas includes the snailsuckers, a unique group of snakes that feed on soft-bodied prey including snails extracted from their shells, slugs, and earthworms. The species epithet “aparatiritos” is Greek for unnoticed: a reference to the fact that the snake had remained hidden in plain sight for over forty years at a very well-studied field site.
Scientists Dr. Julie Ray, University of Nevada – Reno, Paola Sánchez-Martínez, Abel Batista, Daniel G. Mulcahy, Coleman M. Sheehy III, Eric N. Smith, R. Alexander Pyron and Alejandro Arteaga, have described the new species in a paper published in the open-access journal ZooKeys.
Dipsas aparatiritos has the characteristic bulbous head and brown-and-black patterning of many of the snakes in the genus. It looks very similar to its closest known relative, Dipsas temporalis, which is also found in Panama. It is now known that D. aparatiritos is endemic to, or known only from, the western and central parts of the country.
Panama has a rich diversity of snakes, with over 150 documented species in a country the size of Ireland or the U.S. state of South Carolina. Dr. Ray has documented over 55 species of snakes in Parque Nacional General de División Omar Torrijos Herrera where the newly described snake is best studied, and over 80 species in Coclé Province in Central Panama. She published a field guide, Snakes of Panama, in 2017.
Co-author of the species description Dr. Alex Pyron, The George Washington University, visited Parque Nacional General de División Omar Torrijos Herrera in June 2013 with Dr. Frank Burbrink, American Museum of Natural History. “That was my first trip to Central America,” he says. “We were able to see the after-effects of the amphibian declines. But I was struck by the diversity and abundance of snakes that were still present, including this species of snail-eater we have just described, the rare Geophis bellus [a small leaf litter snake known from just one specimen prior to this discovery] and an unusual Coralsnake.”
Despite being a new species, Dipsas aparatiritos is relatively common in Parque Nacional General de División Omar Torrijos Herrera and has been studied for years before it was described. Dr. Ray has published a paper about the diet of snail-eating snakes, where it was found that earthworms from bromeliads compose a large portion of the diet of Dipsas aparatiritos. She also co-authored a paper on trophic cascades following amphibian declines, where it was found that Dipsas aparatiritos actually was increasing in numbers due to a diet independent of amphibians.
Dipsas aparatiritos is already considered Near Threatened based on IUCN Red List standards. The snake is endemic to Panama and comes from a limited range in the cloud forests of mid-elevation, where at least 44% of the overall range has been deforested. In addition, as snakes are constantly persecuted by humans, almost all snake species are in danger of extinction in the near future. Efforts must be made to conserve these rare species, the researchers believe, especially as so many are just being described now.
“This work was a true collaboration of scientists from different countries each contributing their expertise to thoroughly understand this new species, morphologically and molecularly,” said Dr. Ray.
“We are in an exciting time in science. Naturalists and scientists must continue to document the natural world; there are many species out there yet to be found and described. The usage of molecular techniques is exciting and facilitates the confirmation of so many new species.”
Ray JM, Sánchez-Martínez P, Batista A, Mulcahy DG, Sheehy III CM, Smith EN, Pyron RA, Arteaga A (2023) A new species of Dipsas (Serpentes, Dipsadidae) from central Panama. ZooKeys 1145: 131-167. https://doi.org/10.3897/zookeys.1145.96616
Biologists at Eawag have identified ten species of whitefish in the lakes of the Reuss river system. Of these, seven have been described as distinct species for the first time – although in two cases this required inspection of specimens from historical collections, since eutrophication of lakes in the 20th century also led to the extinction of fish species in Central Switzerland.
The “Edelfisch” (Coregonus nobilis) was, after the smaller “Albeli”, the second most commonly caught species of whitefish in Lake Lucerne until, in the second half of the 20th century, phosphate from domestic wastewater and nutrient-rich run-off from farmland led to a massive increase in algal blooms. Compared to the lakes of the Central Plateau, nutrient levels in Lake Lucerne were moderate, and eutrophication was short-lived; even so, due to algal decomposition, oxygen was depleted in the deeper layers of the lake. The “Edelfisch”, which reproduces in the late summer at a spawning depth of 80 metres or more, suffered as a result. Shortly before nutrient inputs decreased following the ban on phosphates in detergents and the expansion of wastewater treatment plants, stocks of this species collapsed and it was considered to be extinct in 1980. Only from the late 1990s were individual specimens caught once again, unequivocally identified as C. nobilis in 2000 by the whitefish specialist and Eawag researcher Rudolf Müller.
Five whitefish species in Lake Lucerne
As the “Edelfisch” is now a protected species, Lake Lucerne has not lost any of its historically recorded whitefish species. Indeed, in addition to the familiar “Edelfisch”, “Albeli” and “Bodenbalchen”, Eawag scientists have identified two new species – two large whitefish, differing from the previously known species in their habits, morphological characteristics and genetic composition. The pelagic “Schwebbalchen” (Coregonus suspensus) probably lives permanently in the open water, not only for foraging but also for reproduction – a spawning behaviour only previously observed in the “Blaufelchen” (C. wartmanni) of Lake Constance. Occupying a position intermediate to the pelagic “Schwebbalchen” (C. suspensus) and the “Bodenbalchen” (C. litoralis) is the littoral “Schwebbalchen” (C. intermundia).
Lake Zug survivor
Particularly affected by eutrophication in the mid-20th century were whitefish in Lake Zug, which – like other Central Plateau lakes – was exposed to higher nutrient levels, for a longer period, than waterbodies further upstream. As only the uppermost water layers of this 200-metre-deep lake maintained oxygen levels sufficient to support fish, two whitefish species spawning in the depths of the lake died out – the (Lake Zug) “Albeli” (C. zugensis) and “Albock” (C. obliterus). Indeed, the Lake Zug “Albock” would have been completely forgotten if specimens had not been found by Eawag scientists Oliver Selz and Ole Seehausen in the historical Steinmann-Eawag Collection. Its morphology and historical accounts indicate that the Lake Zug “Albock” was a deep‑water specialist – a specialisation only otherwise observed to the same degree in the (likewise extinct) Lake Constance Kilch (C. gutturosus) and the (still extant) Lake Thun Kropfer (C. profundus).
The only whitefish species still found in Lake Zug today, spawning near the shore, is the “Balchen”. Testifying to its survival is its new scientific name – Coregonus supersum (“I have survived”).
Species endemic to each lake
Also new are the scientific names of the Lake Lucerne “Bodenbalchen” (C. litoralis) and “Albeli” (C. muelleri). For the morphological and genetic studies carried out by Oliver Selz and Ole Seehausen in order to revise the taxonomy of whitefish showed that almost every lake in Central Switzerland has its own species of “Albeli” and “Bodenbalchen”.
Previously, the “Albeli” of Lakes Zug and Lucerne had been classified as members of the same species (C. zugensis), while the “Balchen” spawning near the shore of the various Central Swiss lakes were known as C. suidteri. These collective species names have now been inherited by the extinct Lake Zug “Albeli” (C. zugensis) and the Lake Sempach “Balchen” (C. suidteri).
The Lake Lucerne “Albeli” received the new name C. muelleri in honour of the fisheries biologist and whitefish specialist Dr Rudolf Müller (1944–2023).
A reflection of Switzerland
The lakes of the Reuss river system are a reflection of Switzerland as a whole. Since the last ice age, at least 35 whitefish species evolved in the pre-alpine lakes, usually two or more in each lake. Switzerland lost a third of these species during the period of lake eutrophication around the middle of the 20th century. Many of the lost species are known to researchers only thanks to historical collections, such as that created before the eutrophication period by the naturalist Paul Steinmann and currently curated by the Natural History Museum of Bern.
Selz OM, Seehausen O (2023) A taxonomic revision of ten whitefish species from the lakes Lucerne, Sarnen, Sempach and Zug, Switzerland, with descriptions of seven new species (Teleostei, Coregonidae). ZooKeys 1144: 95-169. https://doi.org/10.3897/zookeys.1144.67747
Guest blog post by Dr Gregory Barord, marine biology instructor at Central Campus and conservation biologist at the conservation organization Save the Nautilus
Nautiloids were once quite plentiful throughout the oceans, based upon the fossil record. Today, they are represented by just a handful of species, including the newly described Nautilus vitiensis of Fiji, Nautilus samoaensis of American Samoa, and Nautilus vanuatuensis of Vanuatu. These descriptions highlight the concept of allopatric speciation, or biogeographic isolation, where populations are geographically separated from other populations, resulting in a barrier to gene flow. Over time, these populations may eventually evolve into distinct species.
But what does it take to be able to collect the evidence needed to determine if three different populations of nautiluses are in fact three different species? For me, this is the best/worst part of the overall process, because nautilus fishing is not easy. For our team, it starts with building large, steel traps that are about a meter cubed. Then, we wrap the steel frame (ouch), with chicken wire (ouch) mesh (ouch), create an entry hole (ouch), attach it to a surface buoy with about 300 meters of fishing line, and bait it with (ouch) raw meat, usually chicken! Trap construction may take place on a nice beach or a bit inland in the rain or in a warm warehouse. Wherever it takes place, you will have some memories, I mean little scars, on your hands from working with the chicken wire. Looking down at my hands right now, I can remember where I was by looking at each of those scars… worth it!
Tossing the traps into the sea at dusk is the easy part. Load them on the boat, find the right depth, and tip them over the side of the boat. The hard part is retrieving the traps the next day, after about 12 hours of the raw chicken scent moving through the currents. There are a number of methods we’ve used to pull the traps up, from mechanical winches, hand-powered winches, float systems, boat pulls, and of course, just pulling with one hand at a time. Invariably, something happens in each location where we are just pulling the trap up from 300 meters one meter at a time, which takes a good half hour at least. But, at least you are getting a VERY good work-out. Eventually, you see the trap and these white little orbs in it and you know you’ve caught some nautiluses and the pulling is almost done, for now.
The next step might be my favorite. One of us jumps in the water and free dives about 5 meters to carefully (ouch, that chicken wire) reach for the nautiluses in the trap and bring them to the surface. You are face to face with these uniquely, misunderstood organisms who seem like this is just another day for them. For me, this is exhilarating! Once on the boat, they are placed in chilled seawater and from then on, the data collection happens fast. With the living organism in hand, you can start to glean even more of the differences between the species, examining the hood ornaments, or lack thereof. After some photos, measurements, and non-lethal tissue samples, the nautiluses are released and burped.
Maybe nautilus burping is my favorite part. To do this, we either dive with SCUBA or free dive with the nautiluses, and ensure there are no air bubbles trapped in the shell that may cause them to be positively buoyant. Imagine, you have one nautilus in each hand and you start swimming down, your feet and the nautilus tentacles pointed toward the surface. At a sufficient depth, you release them and observe their buoyancy. As the nautiluses compose themselves and jet back down to their nektobenthic habitat 300 meters below, you realize you may never see that individual nautilus again, and that nautilus may never see another human, well, maybe they will…
For me, the impetus for this publication in ZooKeysis rooted in nautilus conservation efforts. Over the last 20 years, I have studied nautiluses from many angles and for over 10 years now, have worked with an international team of folks to address nautilus conservation issues. For many nautiluses, probably millions, they were caught in much the same way that our team collected nautiluses. However, their first meeting with humans was their last as they were pulled from the trap, ripped from their protective shell, and tossed back in the ocean, used as bait, or, rarely, consumed. The shell is the attractive piece for shell traders and the living body has no value. It is like shark finning in that sense. As a direct result of these unregulated fisheries, populations of nautiluses have crashed, some have reportedly gone extinct, and international and country level legislation and regulations has been enacted.
Currently, there are no known fisheries in Fiji, American Samoa, or Vanuatu so the risk of these populations decreasing from fisheries is low, at the moment. Now, what is the risk to these same populations from ocean acidification, increased sedimentation, eutrophication, warming seas, and over-fishing of other species connected to the ecosystem nautiluses reside in? Right now, we simply do not know. Our conservation efforts started with simply counting how many nautiluses were left in different areas across the Indo-Pacific, then recording them in their natural habitat, then tracking their migrations, and now describing new species. There are still many questions to address regarding where they lay eggs, what they eat, and how they behave.
All nautiluses have long been grouped together when describing their natural history, but as we continue to uncover the nautilus story, it is increasingly obvious that each population of nautiluses is different, as exemplified by these three new species descriptions. This is certainly an exciting time for nautilus research, as we uncover more and more information about the secret life of nautiluses. I just hope that this is also an exciting time for nautiluses as well, and they continue doing their nautilus thing as they have done for millions of years.